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Strep throat is a common illness, especially in children between ages 5 and 15. It accounts for about 30 percent of sore throats in children and between five and 15 percent of sore throats in adults. The condition is more common in the winter and spring, but it can happen at any time of year. Strep throat spreads through close contact and can spread very quickly, particularly in classrooms, daycare facilities, or from person to person in a household, particularly when children are present. A sore throat is the most common symptom, but there are other symptoms and complications to look out for.

Fever

Fever is a common symptom of strep throat. It may begin suddenly and is often highest on the second day and can be greater than 101 degrees F. Fever usually resolves within 24 hours of starting antibiotics. To manage a fever in children older than three months old:

  • Offer plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration. You can give them ibuprofen or acetaminophen based on their doctor's recommendation.
  • Do not give children or teens aspirin.
  • Dress your child in lightweight clothes and ensure they get plenty of rest.
  • Encourage your child to eat, but do not force them to if they do not feel like it.
  • Never use a cold bath or rubbing alcohol to bring down a fever.

If your child is under three months old and has a fever higher than 100.4 degrees F, call their doctor or take them for emergency care.

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Chills

Chills can also be a sign of a strep infection. Chills may occur at the start of an infection and predict a coming fever. They are common in young children, who tend to get higher fevers than adults. It is important to remember that fevers are the body's way of fighting infection. Most viruses or bacteria can easily survive when the body is at its normal temperature, but when the body temperature is elevated, it is harder for them to survive. Fever also activates the immune system.

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A sore throat

Another common symptom of strep throat is a sore throat. This symptom may come on very quickly. The throat may appear red, and tiny red spots called petechiae may form on the top of the mouth. In some cases, streaks of pus or white patches may form on the tonsils. Pain levels with strep throat can be quite severe. An early diagnosis can help control pain and other symptoms as they typically start to clear up about 24 hours after taking antibiotics.

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A headache

Children with strep throat may also experience mild to moderate headaches, but this is a less common symptom. Headaches can be treated with an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. A severe headache can indicate that the infection is spreading or that a complication like rheumatic fever is developing. If the headache begins one to two weeks after the infection or if the child is experiencing significant pain and a high fever, see a healthcare professional right away.

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Difficulty swallowing

Because strep throat can cause significant pain and cause the tonsils to swell, swallowing can be uncomfortable. If your child is taking over-the-counter medications for their throat pain or fever, it may also help improve their ability to swallow. It is not necessary to force your child to eat, but make sure they continue drinking fluids to avoid dehydration. If they are having trouble swallowing liquids, popsicles can help them stay hydrated. Other foods to try are gelatin, sherbet, or Italian ice.

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Loss of appetite

People with strep may also experience a loss of appetite, which may be due to pain, an abnormal sense of taste, or just generally feeling unwell. Maintaining good nutrition is essential during illness as it fuels the body to make a full recovery, but hydration is more important during the early stages of an illness. In addition to popsicles and cold drinks, you can offer your child soft, easy-to-swallow foods like pudding, eggs, and applesauce.

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Nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting can also be signs of strep. It can be challenging to tell if a sore throat is strep throat or another virus, but if your child is also complaining of nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, or vomiting, it can be a sign that what they have is more than just a cold virus and that they may need to see a healthcare provider and start taking antibiotics. However, it is crucial to remember that not all children who have strep will experience nausea or vomiting. Interestingly, research has found that abdominal pain and nausea with strep throat is more common in boys than girls.

woman feeling nauseous Piotr Marcinski / EyeEm / Getty Images

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Swollen lymph nodes

Swollen lymph nodes may appear on the sides of the neck early in the course of a strep throat infection. Swollen lymph nodes with strep throat are common and a sign that the body is trying to fight off the infection. It can take a week or two for the swelling to go down after the infection clears.

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Rash

A rash with strep throat is a sign of scarlet fever, one of the possible complications of strep throat. Scarlet fever usually occurs in kids between 5 and 15 years old and is caused by a toxin produced by the strep bacteria. The rash appears bumpy and bright red, looks like a sunburn, and may feel rough like sandpaper. It may or may not be itchy. The rash usually takes about a week to heal. When it does, the skin where the rash was and the skin on the hands and feet may start to peel. If your child has strep throat and develops a rash, it is important to see a doctor. Scarlet fever requires antibiotics for treatment so further complications do not develop.

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Problems breathing and other warning signs

In rare cases, a strep throat infection can turn into streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. This infection can occur when strep gets into the blood and tissues. Early symptoms include muscle aches, fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting. After these symptoms develop, the condition quickly gets more serious. The person may experience difficulty breathing, a rapid heart rate, organ failure, and low blood pressure. Another complication is rheumatic fever, which results from swelling in the joints, skin, central nervous system, or heart.

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Coughing, sneezing, and the spread of strep

Strep does not typically include upper respiratory symptoms, so coughing is not generally a symptom of the condition. However, strep is highly contagious and spreads through airborne droplets when people with the infection cough or sneeze. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and practice good handwashing hygiene. People with strep throat are generally no longer infectious after 24 to 48 hours of antibiotics. After 24 to 48 hours, people with strep should throw out their toothbrushes and wash their pillowcases to avoid reinfection.

Understanding and Managing Strep Throat

Diagnosis and treatment

After an exam and obtaining a history of the symptoms, a healthcare provider will likely perform a rapid strep test. This test involves using a swab to obtain a sample from the back of the throat. It typically gives results in as little as five minutes. If the test is negative, the doctor will usually send another test to a lab just to be sure. This result takes one to two days. If the test is positive, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. After starting antibiotics, the symptoms will usually improve within two days. Antibiotics are also an essential tool for avoiding severe complications.

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Home remedies and care

In most cases, antibiotics will improve symptoms relatively quickly, but there are some ways you can help alleviate the symptoms of strep throat.

  • Rest. Sleep helps your body fight infection, so rest is essential to recovery.
  • Eat easy-to-swallow foods. Try broths, applesauce, soups, mashed potatoes, yogurt, and soft fruits. Cold foods, like popsicles and sherbert, can also be soothing. Remember, staying hydrated is more important than eating, so people with strep throat should be encouraged to drink to avoid dehydration.
  • Gargle with warm salt water. Mix 1/4 teaspoon of salt with eight ounces of warm water and gargle several times a day to help relieve pain. Remind young children not to swallow the water and to spit it out after gargling.
  • Use a humidifier. Breathing in dry air can exacerbate throat irritation. A cool-mist humidifier keeps the air moist.

Air humidifier during work. The white humidifier moistens dry air. Improving the comfort of living in the home, apartment. Improving the well-being of people.

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Prevention

Strep throat is very contagious, and it can be challenging to stop it from spreading, especially in schools, daycares, or homes with children. Remind children to cover their mouths and noses when sneezing and coughing, and encourage good handwashing. After starting antibiotics for strep, wait one or two days, then wash pillowcases and replace toothbrushes with new ones to prevent reinfection.

If you have symptoms of strep throat, like a sore throat, fever, chills, nausea, or vomiting, seek medical attention. Antibiotics are the best way to heal the infection and prevent serious complications. Although symptoms may resolve quickly after taking antibiotics, it is crucial to follow the doctor's or pharmacist's instructions and complete the entire course of antibiotics.

Strep throat is a common illness, especially in childhood. It is very contagious, can spread quickly and easily, and can lead to multiple severe complications, including scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, or streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. Seeing a doctor and starting antibiotics is necessary to relieve symptoms and avoid these complications.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.